According to the liturgical calendar, Easter is not a feast that the church celebrates only one day of the year. The seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost Sundays are called Eastertide, when the church reflects scripturally on the mystery of the Resurrection.
Bondings 2.0 has created the “Out of the Tomb” series to present reflections on the liturgical readings for these Sundays and Ascension for our LGBTQ and Ally readership. You can view the readings for today, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, by clicking here.
Today’s post is from Michael Sennett. Michael studied communications and religion at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, IL. After he graduated in 2018, he began working at the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Chestnut Hill, MA as an Administrative Assistant and Media Specialist. Michael is a trans man and enjoys hearing testimonies of queer spirituality. He actively pursues opportunities to serve and minister to his peers. In the future, Michael hopes to obtain a degree in theology.
Via, Veritas, Vita. The Way, the Truth, the Life. These compelling words from today’s reading from John’s Gospel served as the motto of my undergraduate alma mater, Saint Xavier University, Chicago. The motto was incorporated into various facets of university life, shaping our beliefs.
Immersed in the current pandemic with staggering loss and uncertainty, it’s hard to resonate with those words. It’s probably easier for us to echo the doubts and fears of the apostles Thomas and Philip which are also recorded in today’s gospel. Queer Catholics are no strangers to the two apostles’ concerns for sure answers either. Often, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics feel caught between love for God and love for self. We seek to worship and give thanks to God, sometimes at great personal cost. Many LGBTQ+ Catholics must choose to remain closeted or they will face harassment. Living authentically is beautiful. But to do so requires not only the acceptance and love we receive from the Lord; it must come from our earthly neighbors as well. How do we answer Jesus’ call to move forward in this storm if we do not know the way?
As a Catholic trans man, I’ve struggled in prayer with this question countless times, but particularly in 2010. Throughout the summer and into the fall of that year, the news media reported story after story of teens’ suicides. All of these youth were gay or perceived to be gay, and each of them had faced tremendous bullying. To make matters worse, many Christians of all denominations, including Catholics, were warning that homosexuality would land one in Hell. At only 15, I was wrestling with my own gender and sexuality, and I was traumatized by these messages and stories. The reality I was witnessing was traumatizing. At the time, I could not fathom that there was a place set aside for me with Jesus. As far as I was concerned, I was unlovable and unworthy.
When I encounter today’s reading from Acts, in which the Hellenists fear that bigotry was causing their widows to be neglected by the early Christian community, I see a strong parallel in the experience of queer Catholics. Our spiritual and emotional well-being is regularly overlooked in favor of bigotry.
How did the Apostles respond to the Hellenists? Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they involved members from that group, and appointed them to help with the distribution of charity. However, this has not yet been the case for LGBTQ+ Catholics. Gay teachers at Catholic schools are fired for marrying the persons they love. Priests have denied Communion to queer parishioners. In June 2019, the Vatican released a harmful document on gender identity without consulting a single transgender person–and then had the audacity to call for dialogue. These instances of homophobia and transphobia are common and infuriating. Despite the courageous advocacy of queer Catholic organizations, many clergy have yet to listen to their voices. There must come a day when the hierarchy and members of the faithful discover the compassion and accountability to truly include queer Catholics.
In the meantime, where do we find a foundation to keep building on hope, even while so many wrongs and so much pain exists? Today’s second reading from 1 Peter reminds us that Jesus is the precious cornerstone of our faith. He is the bridge between humankind and Heaven. Those who reject him stumble and fall; they cannot keep their balance. However, those who believe and put their faith in Him have a foundation.
For LGBTQ+ Catholics, this foundation is integral. Reconciling our faith and gender/sexual identities is not merely to coexist with others in the church and the LGBTQ+ community. We do so because these identities enhance one another. Queer Catholics live not as contradictions but as examples of God’s unconditional, unending, all-knowing love.
John’s Gospel highlights this love God has for us. According to Jesus, the house of our Father has many dwelling places. God’s love for humankind is strong, plentiful, and far beyond our comprehension. There is room for all in God. But we also have the power and the duty to spread the love and justice of God throughout the entire world. We are called to advocate for marginalized communities and to be creators of peace. This is our baptismal call to holiness.
Continuing down the path of uncertainty, I find comfort that the disciples before us also had doubts and fears. They grieved and mourned, yet their faith in Jesus Christ endured. LGBTQ+ people may sometimes be afraid, but we must also believe. When we choose hope over doubt, faith over disbelief, and trust over uncertainty, we confirm that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life,” allowing us to revel in relationship with God. I pray that we all find continued blessings this Easter Season, as we prepare to celebrate the upcoming Ascension of the Lord. Amen!
—Michael Sennett, May 10, 2020